Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 4: “Morality and Psychoanalysis”

I have said that we should never get a Christian society unless most of us became Christian individuals. That does not mean, of course, that we can put off doing anything about society until some imaginary date in the far future. It means that we must begin both jobs at once –(1) the job of seeing how ‘Do as you would be done by’ can be applied in detail to modern society, and (2) the job of becoming the sort of people who really would apply it if we saw how. I now want to begin considering what the Christian idea of a good man is–the Christian specification for the human machine.

Christian morality claims it is able to ‘[put] the human machine right.’ Advocates of psychoanalysis also make this claim.

psychoanalysis
1. The method of psychological therapy originated by Sigmund Freud in which free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of resistance and transference are used to explore repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts, in order to free psychic energy for mature love and work.
2. The theory of personality developed by Freud that focuses on repression and unconscious forces and includes the concepts of infantile sexuality, resistance, transference, and division of the psyche into the id, ego, and superego.

 

We need to take care to distinguish between the medical theories of psychoanalysis and Freud’s ideas. The medical theories are good and useful. Freud often misapplied them. When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved: the act, and the feelings and impulses inside him

  • The act of choosing
  • The individual’s ‘psychological outfit,’ or ‘raw material
    • The person could have a normal, healthy makeup, or
    • He could be internally ‘broken,’ with unnatural fears, or damaging history.
      • overblown fears of natural dangers
      • perversions of desire, fear or whatever

Now what psychoanalysis undertakes to do is to remove the abnormal feelings, that is, to give the man better raw material for his acts of choice; morality is concerned with the acts of choice themselves.

Example: Three men go to war.

  • The first man is afraid, but healthy, overcomes his fears, and goes on.
  • The other two are unable to grapple with their fears, and so a psychoanalyst ‘fixes’ them. At this point, the psychoanalytical problem is over, and the moral problem begins. These men might now act in one of two ways:
    • The first goes to war, and faces his natural fears in a normal, healthy way.
    • The second might take his new ability to face fears rationally, but use it selfishly to take advantage of others, and avoid his moral obligations.

Now this difference is a purely moral one and psychoanalysis cannot do anything about it. However much you improve the man’s raw material, you have still got something else: the real, free choice of the man, on the material presented to him, either to put his own advantage first or to put it last. And this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with.

The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges there by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. (Victorian Cross… similar to a Congressional Medal of Honor.) When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

Lewis points out that if we are emotionally and mentally healthy, the beneficiaries of good homes and upbringings, but do nothing with it, we could be worse than people we consider fiends.

That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us : all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

Good and evil are not marks on a scale, but the action of choosing toward God or away from him. Each choice moves us in the direction we choose. Each choice makes us a little more or less godly. Throughout our lives, we are shaping our ‘inner man’ into something by the choices we make.

One last point. Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 5: “Sexual Morality” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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